11 upstart religions rooted in pop culture

The Week

With varying degrees of success, zealous fans have translated their love for brands of pop culture into cults, organizations, and federally recognized religious groups

1. The Sect of Gadget Hackwrench
Golly. If you're going to worship one of the main characters from Disney's long-canceled Chip 'N' Dale: Rescue Rangers, Gadget is probably the best option. A group of Russian individuals, apparently ignoring the fact that her inventions usually failed at particularly inconvenient moments in nearly every episode, decided that the animated begoggled tinkerer was worthy of more than mere admiration. Membership activities for the Sect of Gadget Hackwrench include plastering large Gadget stickers all about Russia, singing to and playing music for a Gadget poster under the cover of night, having group meals (attended by said poster), and maintaining utter devotion to a cartoon mouse. Followers, when asked "But… why?" say Gadget Hackwrench is "strict, cute, optimistic and her level of technical knowledge is unachievable for a mortal being."

2. The Church of the Latter-Day Dude
Maybe you think building a religious sect from the philosophy of a fictional movie character is silly. Yeah, well, y'know. That's just, like uhh... your opinion, man. And 150,000 ordained Dudeist priests would disagree. The self-proclaimed "slowest-growing religion in the world," based on Dude Lebowski from The Big Lebowski, is just like Chinese Taoism, "before it went all weird with magic tricks and body fluids." So sit back, abide, and whatever you do, don't call female Dudeists "dudette." That's not cool.

3. Matrixism / New Matrixism
Do you have your own hacker alias and a lingering suspicion that our world is a simulated reality? You may be a Redpill. That's OK! The terms of Matrixism clearly state that students of the science and philosophy of the Matrix need not renounce any other religious views (or sports, or even pornography) in their quest to become the One. So go ahead and ponder the semi-subjective, multi-layered nature of reality, have a sandwich with Neo, but try to brush up on your quantum physics basics and elementary calculus skills before deciding if you really want to know whether the matrix is real. This 1968 Matrix Theory textbook, an official "tool" of Matrixism, should help. For deeper philosophical reading, see The Promulgation of Universal Peace, which New Matrixists cite as the earliest explicit reference to the Matrix — way back in 1911.

4. Jediism
If you're thinking of becoming an ordained clergyperson of the Jedi faith, put away your childish dreams of lightsaber battles and Obi Wan cosplay. According to the official site for The Temple of the Jedi Order, "We are real Jedi... George Lucas' Jedi are fictional characters that exist within a literary and cinematic universe." True Jediism is for those who wish to be instruments of peace and as such all practitioners must agree to live by the Jedi Creed and an adapted list of beliefs from ReligiousTolerance.org. A 2001 census in Australia recorded 70,509 self-proclaimed Jedi Knights, but nearby New Zealand holds the record for highest per capita rate of Jedi citizens, with 1.5 percent of the population listing themselves as such in 2001.

5. Arceism
If you choose Pokémon, you can also choose to join the semi-serious (mostly-not) community of polytheists who worship Legendary Pokémon as deities and believe the world was created by Arceus, who was emerged from an egg in a place where there was nothing. Collecting Pokémon memorabilia is also strongly encouraged.

6. Society of Cylon
Cylonism is a sort of philosophical takeaway from Battlestar Galactica. Odds are most members of the Society of Cylon more closely resemble the thirteen humanoid models than the robotic Centurions (or the reptilian race of creatures who created them), but at any rate there's no focus on the destruction of humankind; rather the Society focuses on the responsibility of all sentient beings to secure a healthy future for the human race, with a focus on scientific progress and the advancement of "liberty and knowledge of humanity."

7. Church of All Worlds
It turns out that a book about the first man from Mars to make his way to Earth can change the world, or at least the way some people look at it. When Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land was published in 1961, there was no expectation that a fictional church founded in the novel would be recognized in real life by the federal government six years later as a legitimate religion. The Church of All Worlds is a neo-pagan organization based on spiritual and social concepts outlined in Heinlein's work, emphasizing "living in harmony with Nature, self-actualization, deep friendship and positive sexuality." An interesting subsidiary group had a few minutes of fame in the 1980s after creating unicorns by manipulating the horn buds of (goat) kids. Ringling Brothers adopted a few and took them on tour.

8. The Church of Ed Wood
The followers of Woodism look to the life of late film director Ed Wood for guidance, seeing him as a savior and a religious entity. And if you're wondering: Yes, they are "TOTALLY serious," or so claims a pop-up on the church's site, EdWood.org. Created in 1996 by Reverend Steve Galindo, the Woodists just want to "lead happy, positive lives." And if 3,000 global members of the Church of Ed Wood can't convince you that this is a Real Thing, that's okay, too. Galindo says, "We don't expect you to believe in Woodism. We expect you to respect the OUR belief in Woodism."

9. Juggalo Faith
A 2011 FBI report might call them a "loosely organized hybrid gang," but fans of Insane Clown Posse call themselves juggalos and each other family. But sharing a love for face paint and (alleged) random acts of vandalism isn't enough to classify a group as a religious organization. For that, there's JuggaloFaith.com, a group of Faygo soda-baptized ninjas who carry the quasi-mystical message of the Dark Carnival to juggalos everywhere. The site features regular sermons and counseling from a group of volunteer "reverends," who just want you to know that the message of the Carnival, behind the horrorcore and onstage Tila Tequila assaults, is "the gospels of Jesus Christ." ICP's stance on this message wavers a bit, saying liner notes from The Wraith: Shangri-La and lyrics in both "Miracles" and "The Unveiling," while overtly religious, aren't "hidden messages."

10. Festivus
OK, so the Seinfeld-inspired observance isn't so much a religion as it is a holiday, but a strange legal precedent means that if you happen to be serving jail time, you can probably air your grievances in court to get better food. After a plea in the name of "healthism" failed, California inmate Malcolm Alarmo King was awarded double portions of kosher meals after arguing his case for better dinners as a requirement for followers of Festivus. He's since served his term and, thanks to a Festivus miracle, has been released. No word on whether he practices the Feats of Strength every Dec. 23.

11. Missionary Church of Kopimi
While file-sharing isn't precisely grounded in pop culture, it's highly likely that the majority of files shared are culturally popular. The Church of Kopimi, a congregation comprising filesharers who would rather not face jail time for downloading Napoleon Dynamite, gained recognition by the Swedish government in 2011. According to Isak Gerson, the founder of Kopimism, "information is holy and copying is a sacrament." The group's sacred emblems are CTRL+C and CTRL+V. Despite its official registration, Kopimi isn't expected to halt any government crackdowns on illegal sharing sites like The Pirate Bay.


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